Divine Appointments

You might have been expecting a couple of blog posts over Holy Week from me, it being the most important holiday of the Christian calendar and all.  I wish I could have indulged you, but it also happens to be a ridiculously busy week for me!  Adding another sermon to my week really makes the time fly by (a sermon typically takes me 15-20 hours to study for and consider at this point…), and God put a few obstacles in the way that reminded me of the important things.

I really was planning on putting a post up on Thursday while my son was taking a private lesson at kenpo.  Really, I was!  It was going to be several links to good resources for reflections on Holy Week.  We got there on time, I had my laptop to write, and I was all set to go.  Then God nudged me in another direction and gave me a bit of a divine appointment.  When He calls we can’t get so busy that we don’t hear the phone ringing, so I put the laptop aside and answered the call.

I am very privileged  to help lead some of the kids classes at our training center.  I’ve been studying for about 4 years (technically 4 years next month) and have a green belt, which is “middle-of-the-road-almost-competent-but-don’t-get-a-big-head-you’ve-got-a-long-way-to-go” territory.  In Thursday class I mostly assist our instructor by helping kids with their technique, leading warm-ups, and occasionally covering for our instructor when he is out.  The kids like me for the most part and respect me, even though I tend to be the disciplinarian in class and make the kids toe the line. (one of these days I will get me a cool “Smokey” and morph into Gunnery Sergeant Hartman without the cursing) It’s a fun part of my life and I enjoy it immensely.

Thursday God used the relationships I’ve built there and the training He has given me to help a young woman (we’ll call her Trudy because I don’t know anyone named Trudy) in a tough spot.  I noticed Trudy sitting in a seat near me, staring off into space about 20 minutes before her class was to start.  That was odd; she’s not normally like that.  She had a bit of a pensive look on her face and wasn’t really “there.”  So I asked if she was okay.

She wasn’t.  She was thinking about the conversation she had to have after class and not looking forward to it one bit.  I know that my selfishness wanted to just give her a pat on the head and tell her to use the mat as a safe place, but I just couldn’t.  So I sat down next to her and asked her what was up.  That’s when this poor pre-teen told me that she had to tell her mom and stepdad that if they couldn’t stop fighting that she was going to go live with her dad and stepmom full time.  And the reason that she had to have that conversation was because after the last fight her mom had bruises all over her, and she was scared.

I was so heartsick when she told me what she was up against.  I mean, going through your parents divorcing is ridiculously hard all by itself.  (mine divorced when I was a baby, so I missed a lot of the grief but still got a lot of the fallout)  Having to integrate into two families is really hard.  Dealing with parents fighting is frightening for kids of any age.  Dealing with domestic violence is more than any kid can handle.  My heart just broke for this kid.  And as it did, I thought of what Paul tells us in Romans 12:14-17,

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.
17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.

First I had to remember verse 17 for my own heart, because my flesh wanted to put a pounding on a man who thought he was okay putting his hands on his wife.  That ain’t how I was raised, and it got my blood boiling. (the old sailor in me is never so far away that he’s not available at a moment’s notice…)  More than that, though, I remembered that this kid in front of me, not even a teenager, was being asked to confront an authority in her life about his anger and his sin.  What a horrible burden to bear at such a young age!  I have kids her age, and thinking about them being in her shoes just tore me up.

I dug a little further and found some more stuff to make me think.  This family is a church-going family.  They are regular attendees at one of the largest churches in our area.  They come, sing some songs, listen to a speech, and head home in a car with a Jesus fish on it.  They have no enrichment class, no home fellowship or small group to hold them accountable.  They are adrift in a sea known as a megachurch.  This young woman wouldn’t even know who the children’s pastor or youth pastor of that congregation was. (my guess is that there are multiple people in that role; I am not bashing large churches here but this model of “church” allows this type of relationship a lot more easily)

So insert me.  I got to pray with Trudy and encourage her a little.  I got to offer her (and her dad) my support in a pastoral role.  No they don’t “go to my church,” but I am a shepherd within the Church, and that role never gets a day off.  It’s not what I do, it’s who I am.  It’s what I’ve been bought to do. (Luke 17:10)  I also got several other reminders from that divine appointment:

  1. The people around you in church are hurting, broken people.  Just because they look good and smile doesn’t mean that they aren’t suffering inside.  Look past the smile and get involved in people’s lives!
  2. Church is not about making a weekly pilgrimage to listen to a message and sing, give some money and go home.  Church only works when it involves getting to know people and being involved in their lives.
  3. Sometimes, though the cowboy in me wants to mount up and take care of some cattle rustlers, the best thing I can do is sit with someone who’s been hurt and weep with them.  Knowing someone cares is sometimes the lifeline that can let someone do the right thing in a tough spot.
  4. Regardless of what ‘”hat” I am wearing, I am always and foremost a follower of Christ, called to offer His mercy to a dying world.  I’ve been praying Micah 6:8 this year and asking God to show me how to love mercy; He listens.
  5. If I had been too focused on my own priorities I never would have seen a kid in need of some help.  I might have felt good about getting a blog post up and missed out on the significant opportunity God had for me.

I haven’t heard back from her on her confrontation, so this post isn’t wrapped neatly in a bow; I will ask when I see her next.

If you read my blog, please hear my heart: don’t get so busy that you can’t hear God calling you to help someone in need.  Look for those divine appointments.  They almost never come at church, and often come gift-wrapped in serious problems that someone else is going through.  You might be the lifeline that someone needs to make it through a tough spot, and God can use you to change the course of someone’s life.

Punishment or Training?

You ever have God whack you upside the head?  Even more, have you ever thought that He didn’t love you anymore or that He was just punishing you, even unfairly punishing you?  I think that most of us from time to time wonder why God does what He does.  Even more, most of us can remember a time when we thought he was just plain angry with us and punishing us without remorse.

I had a little girl feel the same way in a different context last night.  I am an instructor at our kenpo studio; sometimes I teach kids’ classes and sometimes I help our head instructor teach.  Tuesday afternoons I teach the beginning/intermediate kids class, which is mostly yellow belts and mostly kids under 12.  One of them is an 8-year-old girl who has become quite dear to me.  She is a good kid who needs a lot of help to stay focused and have a good experience in kenpo.  She is also a bit sensitive and needs to be reminded a lot that she is special and loved.

Yesterday she got her feelings hurt.  Our instructor was not in the mood for the kids to slack off; I mean, it’s the first class of the year!  When he put them through their paces on some beginning stuff some of them didn’t do so hot, so he had them practice a little and then show the class their technique.  The ones who did well moved on to another exercise, but he made the ones who didn’t repeat that particular technique 100 times.  This girl was put in the “repeat 100 times” group.  She cried when she was told that her technique was weak and immediately said that she couldn’t do it 100 times.  She worked at it half-heartedly for awhile and then class ended with her pouting.

I wanted to help her get the lesson, so after class I had her come over to me and we talked awhile.  In her mind she had been punished.  Even worse she didn’t think that her technique was too bad!  She was upset because she thought that Mr. Robinson was punishing her and didn’t love her.  I know that this little girl thrives on being loved, so I challenged that assumption.  We ended up making a bet that she had to ask him if he loved her.  If he said that he didn’t I would do 100 pushups and she would get to wear my belt (currently green) to class the next two weeks.  If he said that he did she would go home and practice, then come back next week with a great attitude ready to train and learn.

You can guess what happened.  She asked Lawrence if he loved her, and he told her that he did.  He went on to say that the reason he was hard on her is because he cares for her!  The kids who he doesn’t love he allows to slack off.  They don’t care and will be there for only a short while, but the ones who have real potential he works with and challenges. So he makes it harder on them to train them so that they become excellent martial artists, not to punish them when they make mistakes.

After Lawrence left she and I talked about the difference between punishment and training (in a kenpo context).  The difference, to put it bluntly, is attitude.  The exercise he gave her would make her a better martial artist if she saw it as training, or it would be boring and frustrating if it was punishment.  If he said to do 100 pushups we could take it as a punishment for being weak or an opportunity to build strength.  The only difference, we agreed, was attitude. 

This is the same concept that the author of Hebrews teaches us about our spiritual lives in Hebrews 12:4-13.  Rather than punishing us when we mess up, God sometimes trains His children and disciplines them in ways that are difficult. 

You have not yet resisted 1bto the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,
It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.

I love verse 11.  “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”  When God disciplines me I tend to take it as punishment.  However, in reality He means it as training for times in my life that I can’t even see coming but will need to be stronger than I am now.  It may not be fun, and it may be painful, but even in the tough times I can rest in the sure knowledge of His love for me and acceptance of me as a son.  The discipline He brings into my life trains me to be a mature and adult son, whose life is trained to bear the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

In the end, our attitude about life matters.  Is what God is doing in your life punishment or training?  Is it for your good or harm?  What the author of Hebrews says is that if you are a Christian it is for your good.  That doesn’t mean that the consequences of our sin is always peachy, or that everything in life always comes up roses.  What it does mean is that even the worst situation in life can be used by God to train us to be the people that He wants us to be if we will only have an attitude that allows it.  If we see it as training in Him rather than punishment by Him it can work in our lives for great effect.

I told this young girl that if she worked on her technique this week and came to class next Tuesday with a great attitude to learn that she could still wear my belt. (this is a badge of honor in the training center, to wear an instructor’s belt;  It’s silly but it works as a motivator if not overused)  If she changed her attitude about the class she could and would be successful in class, and through that in life.

What about you?  Where is God training you that might appear like punishment?  Wherever you feel the hand of God in your life is training in righteousness if you will have a good attitude about it and accept it from Him.   Accept the discipline of God as an opportunity to become who He wants you to be, and watch that attitude of gratitude and submission to Him blossom into a harvest of righteousness in your life that brings more spiritual blessing than could have ever happened without it.  God works in our lives for our good (that’s Romans 8:28 for those keeping score at home) if we will only see it that way.

Self Defense and Christianity Part 4: Application

Please begin your reading of this thread, if you have not already done so, by reading Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

While the Scriptures indicate that absolute pacifism is not in agreement with the whole counsel of God, we must still use discernment and wisdom in the application of that understanding. Just because we can defend ourselves and others in some instances does not give Christians a blank check to use violence to achieve our own ends.

The Word of God in review does not prohibit self-defense and in fact commands us to take precautions to protect innocent life and liberty. However, we must always temper our response to line up with the biblical witness of wisdom in application. Knowing how to apply truth to life is every bit as important as knowing the truth as an abstract concept!

  1. The most obvious way to win a fight is not to be there. We must be, in Jesus’ words, “shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) The wise Christian seeks to avoid physical confrontation and the need to defend themselves or others by practicing Paul’s admonition in Romans 12:18.
  2. It is perfectly acceptable for a Christian to study self-defense and martial arts. However, Christians should avoid those arts that deal with idolatry such as ancestor worship or practices that come into conflict with a biblical worldview. Martial arts training can add to our awareness and understanding of how to avoid potentially dangerous situations and can therefore prevent situations in which physical self-defense is necessary. They can also increase our ability to effectively end a conflict when it arises.
  3. We must obey the command to “be in subjection to the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1) and understand that while a particular instance may be defensible biblically it may not be defensible under the laws of our state. (and vice versa) In such instances we must be prepared to incur the penalty that our state’s laws mandate for our actions.
  4. As we learn in Exodus 22:2-3, deadly force is biblically authorized when an intruder threatens our lives or the life of someone else. In Arizona[1], the standard that is applied is the test of a “reasonable person.” In other words, would a reasonable person resort to self-defense in the situation in which you did? The standard of “reasonableness” is sound and should guide us as we seek to apply truth to life. Other states use different standards, but biblically it appears that Castle Doctrine is sound.
  5. We are authorized to use force to prevent assault on another person (such as rape, violence, or murder) as if they were ourselves. We must always heed the biblical injunction to use wisdom in our dealings and respond properly to the situation at hand. Unless a loss of life or grievous bodily harm is imminent, it is not biblically defensible to use deadly force to defend property. From a personal perspective, my attitude is that I am not willing to escalate a conflict to a deadly force scenario to save my insurance company a claim!
  6. Arizona is considered an “open carry” state and a “shall issue” state, meaning that it is permissible to private citizens without violent criminal convictions to carry a firearm as long as that firearm is holstered and visible to a casual observer[2]. It is also possible to be permitted by the state to carry a firearm concealed. Each state has unique firearms laws (access your state’s laws here), so YMMV. It is not biblically defensible to violate the laws of your jurisdiction and carry a firearm or other defensive tool illegally. Also, each individual must assess their own comfort level with tools such as firearms and whether it is wise (not merely acceptable) for them to use such tools.
  7. As Christians we must live in subjection to our authority. If a person wants to take martial arts training or other unarmed defense that is fine. A person who wishes to carry a weapon should have the consent of their authorities when doing so. That means that if a person wanted to carry a firearm at work they should have the approval of their supervisor or manager; if someone wanted to carry a firearm at church they should seek the approval of their church leadership to do so. (in states where this is legal) While I know a lot of people who carry concealed who decide that they need no approval from anyone, in light of the touchy nature of firearms usage it would seem wise to be under authority in cases such as this.

At the end of the day, we must remember that the world is a fallen place and we may be called on to stop evil when we see it. We must be wise in application of the biblical ability to defend ourselves, but we must also remember that James 4:17 tells us that if we know what we should do and do not do it, then we have sinned. Since our calling as Christians is to a life of holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16), sinning by commission or omission is never our desire.

It’s a dangerous world; be safe out there!

[1] This is not to be construed in any way as legal advice or binding upon any person. It is my understanding and application of the Arizona Revised Statutes regarding the criminal code, which may be found online at http://www.azleg.state.az.us/arizonarevisedstatutes.asp?title=13 (accessed 10/28/09). In particular, misconduct involving firearms in AZ may be found in ARS 13-3102.

[2] There are restrictions on this in terms of where a firearm may be brought; see ARS for more.

Self Defense and Christianity, Part 3: An Evaluation of Christian Pacifism

Please read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series before reading this post.

While the evidence for Christian pacifism initially seems strong, further exploration of the biblical text shows that Christian pacifism has a difficult time understanding several significant texts in both Old and New Testament. It is true that Jesus taught His disciples to “turn the other cheek,” but many if not most evangelical scholars do not believe that pacifism or nonresistance is the central point of Jesus’ words.[1] Rather, to the point that Jesus is making here is continued reaching out in the face of insult. The Hebrew concept of the insult is contained in Job 16:10:

“They have gaped at me with their mouth,

They have slapped me on the cheek with contempt;

They have massed themselves against me. (Job 16:10)

Part of Job’s lament is that his adversary (v. 9) slaps him on the cheek with contempt. This was commonly associated with expulsion from the synagogue in Jesus’ day[2] and pictured far more of a social and personal insult than a physical assault. To a Jew in Jesus’ day being slapped in the face was a grave insult akin to someone spitting in our face today. Any physical damage is almost incidental to the insult. Jesus’ intent, then, is to command his disciples to continue to reach out to their enemies, even in the face of grave personal insult. In its historical and cultural context the command to “turn the other cheek” does not command nonresistance or pacifism in the face of criminal assault but rather continued outreach to enemies despite insult. When Christians are insulted or slandered we must continue to reach out to those who insult us. This ethic has no bearing upon our response to rapists or armed robbers, however.

Pacifism’s understanding of Isaiah 2:4 is also suspect. Certainly the text tells us that when the Lord reigns He will bring an unprecedented time of peace. However, that time of peace appears to be awaiting Christ’s Second Coming. We must keep verses like Luke 12:51 in mind when looking at descriptions of the reign of the King of Kings, which says, “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division…”. The fault of the interpretation in pacifism can be called an “overly realized eschatology,” where the “already” of the kingdom of God is focused on so much that the “not yet” is completely obscured. Christ will bring amazing peace to the nations when He comes again, but in the interim between His comings we will not have peace between nations. Jesus says as much in Matthew 24:7, when He prophesies that “nation will rise against nation” before He comes again.

The command of Exodus 20:13 deserves careful consideration, but at the end of the day does not prohibit all taking of human life. The command “You shall not murder” is clearly a command designed to protect the sanctity of human life. However, by looking at its use throughout Scripture it becomes apparent that it is not a universal command with no limits. The verb translated “murder” is found twenty times in Numbers 35[3], and these uses prove helpful in understanding the limits of the command. Numbers 35 discusses the “cities of refuge” of the Levites and lays out appropriate punishments for those who take life without authorization. Particularly important are Numbers 35:27 and Numbers 35:30, which both make mention of the taking of human life without any guilt before God. Clearly, then, all taking of human life cannot be sin. These are not coordinated actions of a national army, but individuals taking the life of another person.

It is very instructive in Matthew 26:52 that Jesus did not command Peter to rid himself of his sword. Instead Jesus told Peter to put it away in light of Jesus’ fulfillment of God’s plan. Christ’s nonresistance to His crucifixion is a manifestation of His unique mission to die for the sins of the world. Even with this in mind there are clearly instances in Scripture of Jesus using physical violence; in John 2:15 Jesus used a “scourge of cords” to drive the sellers and moneychangers out of the temple. All violence cannot be evil if Jesus used violence to protect the holiness of the temple.

It would seem, therefore, that though Christian pacifism is correct in upholding the sanctity of human life there is not a universally binding command to pacifism in Scripture. There are clearly times in Scripture that God allows the taking of life without guilt, and even times when He commands one person to take the life of another. Pacifism does not adequately address these issues in Scripture.

The Biblical Case for Self-Defense

The Bible does present evidence that self-defense is acceptable within the guidelines of wisdom. One of the titles of God in the Old Testament, “The LORD of hosts” (Exodus 12:41) pictures God as the omnipotent Warrior at the head of His army. The author of Hebrews commends many Old Testament saints for their military acts of faith in Hebrews 11:30-40. Gideon, Deborah, and others were anointed by God to lead others into battle and conduct war.

We are commanded not to murder (Exodus 20:13), which may be defined as the unauthorized taking of human life. Not all loss of life can be defined as murder, though, as evidenced by God’s command of the Israelites to go to war. (Numbers 21:1-3) That command against murder must be seen in light of some expansion on the topic of the taking of life given in Exodus 22:2-3:

2“If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. “3But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft. (Exodus 22:2-3)

In context the Lord is authorizing the death of a thief that is caught in the act of thievery. However, if he gets away with his thievery only to be apprehended later then he cannot be killed without incurring guilt. The death of this thief is authorized, presumably because he represents a threat to the owner of the home and his family such that deadly force is justified. Once the thief leaves the threat is removed and therefore deadly force is not authorized.

Perhaps one of the most significant passage with respect to self-defense is Nehemiah 4:14:

When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses.” (Nehemiah 4:14)

Nehemiah was authorized by Artaxerxes I to perform his work, but because of the criminal activity of Sanballat and Tobiah was in danger of assault and attack. His response is a rousing call to defense of the walls of Jerusalem. After the immediate attack was averted the men maintained their armed state (verses 16-18) and readiness to defend themselves if necessary.

In the New Testament we see examples of the same ethic.

36And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. 37“For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” 38They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:36-38)

In Luke 22:36 Jesus commands his disciples who do not own a sword to go and sell their outer garment to buy one. Jesus is preparing His disciples here for ministry and evangelism after He has departed, and in verse 38 when they reply that they are armed Jesus approves of their ownership of the swords. The Greek word here for sword (μάχαιρα, machaira) referred to a relatively short sword that was used by the people of Palestine to defend themselves while travelling from robbers and wild animals. Jesus commanded His disciples to have such an implement for their own defense.

While Jesus commands the disciples to have some form of defense, we also see that wisdom and discernment are vital to the application of self-defense. In Matthew 26:52-54 Jesus rebukes Peter for cutting off the ear of the servant of the high priest. In the context of Jesus’ fulfillment of His mission He is rebuking Peter for his failure to discern the true nature of the situation as necessary in God’s plan. Likewise, in Exodus 22:2-3 God tells us that discernment must be used; if the thief is caught in the act he may be considered hostile, but capture after the fact removes the threat of injury and thus the need for deadly force.

In the final post in this series we will consider applications of a biblical theology of self defense, including a discussion of the consequences of both acting and failing to act in defense of ourselves or others.

[1] See Bock, Darrell L. Luke Volume 1: 1:1-9:50. Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1994), 592. See also Marshall, I. Howard. The Gospel of Luke : A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New international Greek testament commentary. (Exeter [Eng.]: Paternoster Press, 1978), 260; Stein, Robert H. Luke. The New American Commentary. (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 207; Nolland,: Luke 1:1-9:20. Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 35a. (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 296.

[2] See 1 Esdras 4:30 and Didache 1:4

[3] For a more thorough analysis, see Keith Essex, “Euthenasia” in The Master’s Seminary Journal 11:2 (Fall 2000), 205.

Self Defense and Christianity, Part 2: Christian Pacifism

Don’t start here; read Part 1 of this series first (it can be found here).

If we are going to have an honest discussion of the compatibility of self defense and Christian discipleship, we must understand the opposing positions. The discussion of self defense and Christian discipleship tends to generate a lot of heat and not a lot of light. One of the greatest challenges we face with the discussion is working hard not to create “straw man” arguments that don’t really interact with the arguments of those we disagree with.

These straw man arguments are common in this discussion. Christian Pacifists are often painted as sissies or weenies who aren’t willing to get behind the Lion of Judah, and believers in just war theory are sometimes painted as hate mongering war hawks. Neither of those descriptions are accurate.

In the spirit of understanding, then, we first turn to a discussion of the biblical underpinnings of Christian pacifism.

Christian pacifism is the theological and ethical position that any form of violence is incompatible with the Christian faith. Prominent American thinkers such as the great 19th Century evangelist D.L. Moody (of Moody Bible Institute fame) and Martin Luther King, Jr. have advocated one form or another of Christian pacifism.

John Howard Yoder presents a modern adaptation to the classic Mennonite view of passive nonresistance in his book The Politics of Jesus.[1] He argues that Jesus is interested in social and political issues, but His strategy is to stay away from the game of socio-political control and instead adopt the practice of nonresistance. Yoder believes that Christians must reject the world’s system of violence and follow their Savior to the cross.

Though there is much debate on the passage, a central issue is the sixth commandment contained in Exodus 20:13: “You shall not murder.” There is some debate over whether the prohibition here is best translated “Thou shalt not kill” (as the KJV has it) or “you shall not murder” as all modern English translations render it.[2] The ESV translation notes that the Hebrew verb used here[3] refers to any unauthorized taking of human life, whether intentional or through carelessness or neglect. The taking of human life, then, is specifically disallowed by God and a violation of His command. Because of that, self defense should be avoided as a matter of obedience to the revealed will of God.

Another influential verse for pacifists is Isaiah 2:4, which says,

4 And He will judge between the nations,

And will render decisions for many peoples;

And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not lift up sword against nation,

And never again will they learn war.

This verse teaches the peace of the reign of Messiah. He will be the judge between people, and Isaiah prophecies of the tranquility that will reign when Messiah comes. His reign will be one of peace, as nations “hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” In other words, Messiah (i.e. Jesus) brings with Him peace for His people. To break that peace by means of violence, even violence toward those who are violent to us, is a breaking of the peace that He sought to bring and is sin.

Proponents of this position also point to Matthew 26:47-52 in support for the idea of Christian pacifism:

47While He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came up accompanied by a large crowd with swords and clubs, who came from the chief priests and elders of the people. 48Now he who was betraying Him gave them a sign, saying, “Whomever I kiss, He is the one; seize Him.” 49Immediately Judas went to Jesus and said, “Hail, Rabbi!” and kissed Him. 50And Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you have come for.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him. 51And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. (Matthew 26:47-52)

Verse 52 is very important to advocates of nonresistance, as Jesus rebukes Peter’s violence and commands him to put his sword away. Thus within the view of nonresistance Jesus does not allow for self-defense, instead commanding Christians to suffer wrong rather than retaliate with violence against violence. The other passage that nonresistance advocates view as central to their position is Jesus’ admonition to “turn the other cheek”:

27“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29“Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. 30“Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. 31“Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. (Luke 6:27-31; cf. Matthew 5:38-42)

This is the main passage that advocates nonresistance in the eyes of Christian pacifists. Even in the face of physical assault Jesus commands his disciples to “turn the other cheek” and forego self-defense. Whether the offense is physical (a strike to the cheek) or financial (the taking of the outer garment) the response of the disciple must be nonresistance. In this way the Christian follows Christ’s example of nonresistance in the face of rejection and assault, emulating their Savior.

There are more really good discussions of Christian pacifism out there on the web. David Hoekema presents a well written article in Religion Online, and Myron Augsburger also penned a nice discussion for Intervarsity shortly after 9/11. They are worth reading if you want a more in depth presentation of Christian pacifism.

There is some biblical evidence, then, that points Christians toward an ethic of nonviolence. At the very least it is apparent that when searching the Scriptures we find that violence must not be the priority nor the desired option in dealing with conflict from a biblical perspective.

Next post we will consider the evidence for Christian self defense.

[1] John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI; Eerdmans, 1994)

[2] The author consulted the ESV, HCSB, NET, NASB, NCV, NIV, NKJV, NLT, and NRSV. RSV and ASV, both older translations, had “kill” rather than “murder.”

[3] The Hebrew verb is רָצַח (ratsach)